New York City organizers from the anti-tax dodging movement US Uncut today staged two peaceful teach-ins at Bank of America branches. Carl Gibson, the founder of the original US Uncut chapter in Jackson, Mississippi, joined the NYC protesters. Gibson was in town after playing a major role in the Washington, DC Power Shift flash mob that successfully shut down a BP gas station, and the GE-oriented prank pulled on the media in tandem with the Yes Men.
The bank is a familiar target for the tax dodging movement, and has been an object of the group’s outrage since US Uncut’s inception. “Bank of America hasn’t paid taxes on earnings in the last two years,” Gibson explains. “While they’re getting away with not paying taxes, we’re getting budget cuts.”
For example, Mayor Bloomberg has warned that as many as 4,600 city teachers will receive pink slips this spring, while Congress has already cut $5.5 billion from education and related services in 2010 and threatens to cut another $13 billion (pdf) in 2011.
As the poor sacrifice their social services, Bank of America, which received $45 billion in taxpayer money during the bailout, and has spent $12 million on lobbying since 2008, paid no taxes at all in 2009 and even enjoyed a tax credit of $1.9 billion.
The hypocrisy of asking citizens to sacrifice while allowing corporations like the taxpayer-supported Bank of America to first write legislation with the help of their teams of lobbyists, and then undermine the communities that helped facilitate their survival and growth, is too much for some citizens to bear.
Brendan, a US Uncut protester, explains that he felt inspired by the visit of Ahmed Maher, co-founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, which catalyzed Egypt’s revolution early this year. Maher met with US Uncut earlier in the week to share his experiences of being on the frontlines of a massive social uprising. Afterwards, Brendan said he wanted to get more involved with US Uncut’s actions.
“I can strongly sympathize with [the budget cuts] because I plan on becoming a teacher. Unfortunately, I don’t see much of a future in that. They’re shutting down public schools left and right,” he says.
In order to pay his bills, Brendan is now working as a janitor at a private elementary school up in Jackson Heights, Queens. “It’s just a horror story there,” he says. “People don’t have health insurance, there’s no security, no benefits…. Where am I going to go? I have a BA, I’m $20,000 in debt, I went to two state schools and community college. There’s no future for me, I don’t think, as a teacher. My heart goes out [to teachers].”
US Uncut planned to stage a teach-in, which is a creative form of protest that entails an activist playing the part of a teacher, or professor, who then educates his class i.e. the other activists about the evil deeds of the target in question. Basically, a teach-in is an alternative to a traditional protest in which someone shouts helpful facts at pedestrians in an attempt to educate them.
The first teach-in took place in a Lower East Side BoA, and was extremely short-lived. The bank’s security called the police almost immediately, and the group was promptly kicked out. Several attempts to continue the protest outside were also broken up even though, as the US Uncut organizers pointed out, they were attempting to congregate on a public sidewalk.
Organizers decided to move the protest to a second BoA where they had better luck setting up the teach-in. The “lesson plan” centered on key figures like the fact that offshore tax havens cost the country $100 billion every year. BoA operates 371 tax-sheltered subsidiaries (204 in the Cayman Islands alone) according to its regulatory filings.
States are currently facing another $100 billion budget gap, and the president has proposed nearly $1 trillion in social program cuts. US Uncut says those slashes wouldn’t be necessary if corporations like BoA would simply start paying their fair share in taxes.